Dr. Chiara Ferella

Project title: "Metaphors in Early Greek Concepts of Cosmos, Nature, Body and Mind"


In raising the question of the nature of things, early Greek thinkers initiated both cosmological and scientific enquiry, and profoundly influenced and re-defined the ancient Greek concepts of cosmos, nature, body and mind. My project aims to investigate these concepts in all the extant fragments and testimonia of early Greek philosophy (most commonly defined as pre-Socratic philosophy). In doing so, the particularly new focus of my investigation is on the metaphors by which these concepts are formed, as well as, in parallel, on the specific role played by metaphors in the formation of cosmological, biological and mental notions and theories.

My starting point is the cognitive function of metaphors and their potential in creating and structuring knowledge about abstract concepts through a cross-domain mapping with more familiar and experience-based facts, as contemporary metaphor studies (especially conceptual metaphor theory, CMT) have demonstrated. It follows that metaphor can be used as a window to investigate and evaluate ancient concepts, such as those under analysis.

Specifically, I aim to explore, what aspects of the ancient Greek world are productive as metaphor vehicles in early Greek philosophical texts. By doing so, I will be able to identify which perceptual and experiential grounding lies at the foundation of the metaphors created by early Greek thinkers, and hence of their concepts of cosmos, nature, body and mind. In parallel, I aim to describe how bodies of knowledge connected to the concepts of cosmos, nature, body and mind could be cognitively structured and organized in accordance with relationships and hierarchies expressed in the more concrete source domain of the metaphor.

This raises a chain of questions: What is the relation between metaphor and imagination in early Greek philosophy? And between metaphor and argumentation? In which way and how far is a fresh metaphorical stratum introduced on the basis of an already established comparison? To what extent does this fresh metaphorical stratum contribute to new developments in the formation of scientific concepts? To what extent do metaphors elicit, in this way, creative and productive conceptual (and theoretical) thinking? What interpretative effort is demanded or reduced by metaphor in each specific context?

Two aspects must in particular be taken into account. On the one hand, as metaphor use in ancient philosophy roots in pre-philosophical literature, it is necessary to consider the concepts under analysis, reconstructed through pre-Socratic metaphors, in relation to their earlier counterpart. On the other hand, as metaphor elicits creative and productive thinking, it is important to consider both the relationship of pre-Socratic metaphors of cosmos, nature, body and mind with comparable elements in further ‘scientific’ literature, especially in the Hippocratic texts, and their ‘legacy’ to later philosophical understanding of the same concepts (especially in Plato and Aristotle).

This study additionally aims to consider metaphor in relation to the larger problem of the development of logic and scientific method and discourse from the sixth to the fourth century BCE. In particular, what would early thinkers have regarded as criteria for a good theory of explanation? What could they have expected of an ‘account’ of natural phenomena? Which role does metaphor play in the construction of philosophical theories and in the formation of scientific methods and discourse?